Some night Tuesday night.
L was attending her first ever Pacers game – a preseason game against a team from Israel – with a buddy from school. Their family gets tickets from a family friend, so several times a year they get to sit on the floor, right next to the basket on the visitor’s end of the court. She was super excited.
So that she was attired properly, I ran out to find her a Pacers shirt. Now I know it was only October 10, we’re in the midst of football season, and the Pacers are kind of a hot mess right now. But I was only able to find one kid-sized shirt in nearly two hours of searching. Basketball capital of America my… Clearly the basketball gods were mocking me, because that shirt was a Victor Oladipo shirsey. You know, the IU alum and general good guy who was the centerpiece of the return for Paul George, but is dramatically overpaid for what he does and drew my ire when the trade went down last July. I presented it to her after school and her reaction was, “Ola-what?!?!” I helped her to pronounce it properly, explained who she was, and she seemed cool with it.
I would have been cooler with a Myles Turner shirsey, but whatevs, it’s not my shirt.
She popped up on TV just seconds into the broadcast. As the teams were walking to mid-court to do the international ball exchange of gifts, we saw her head between two players, tilted up to look at the scoreboard above. We could also tell she and her friend had been playing before the left for the game because her hair was all jacked up. Par for the course with that kid.
All night they were right on the edge of the camera view when the ball was on their end of the court. They were a little hard to see because the two floor cameramen for TV were right in front of them. Three times the ball rolled to them and they got to flip it back to the ref. We also saw the Pacers mascot, Boomer, messing with them a few times. He gave them a sign to hold up, but it was pointed to the crowd rather than the screen. And he gave them the big cat paw gloves he wears and we saw them waving them to the fans around them. They got some pics with Boomer and made the scoreboard screen dancing before the night was over. They were also just feet from Larry Bird, Donnie Walsh, and Kevin Pritchard. I thought about texting the dad to send Lia over to Pritchard to give him some shit about losing the Paul George trade, but figured that wouldn’t work well for anyone.
She got home pretty late, but was so wound up it took her nearly two hours to relax and get to sleep. She had a great time and wants to go back. Hope she’s not disappointed when we are not sitting in the front row next time.
While watching the Pacers game, I was also following the final night of World Cup qualifying on Twitter and the ESPN app. As most of you know, it turned out to be an utter shitshow of a night. The US men’s national team went down 2–0 to lowly Trinidad & Tobago in the first half. But, because both Honduras and Panama were also losing, the US was still in the World Cup at that point. When Christian Pulisic pulled one back early in the second half, it looked like the US would find a way to salvage a tie and move through by the narrowest of margins. But they continued the theme of this qualifying campaign, and sleep walked through the next 40-plus minutes and fell 2–1.
Meanwhile Honduras tied Mexico, then put a ball off the crossbar that ricocheted off the Mexican goalkeeper’s back into the goal to take the lead. And Panama got a very controversial winning goal. The soccer gods were saying, “Yeah, you don’t belong in the World Cup,” to the US.
First time the US won’t play in the World Cup since 1986.
It was both a disaster and a completely deserved fate for this team. Whether the fault of the players, the two coaches who have guided them through this 18-month process, or the folks who run US Soccer, this team looked terrible throughout the qualifying games. They played with disinterest, got pummeled far too often, and never found the spark they needed to beat teams they should have beaten. They didn’t deserve to go to Russia. I guess this saves them the embarrassment of being the worst team in the tournament as they were in France ’98.
Not only do they miss the next World Cup, but if they somehow get their shit together and qualify for the 2022 World Cup, that one will be played in the fall, when most of the US is focused on football and the baseball playoffs. The USMNT is going to have a very hard time moving the needle in the US again until 2026. Along the way they may waste the prime of Pulisic, the first “Savior of American Soccer” who appears deserving of that title.
Oh well. I root for the USMNT because I’m an American, and I hope someday they can consistently go deep into international tournaments. But I’m generally rooting for Italy in the World Cup, and whatever other teams are joys to watch in that particular year. Or against the countries I don’t like. The US not being in Russia doesn’t mean I’m not going to watch the World Cup.